Split Scream Vol. 4 Review
To curate a perfect double feature, there’s a plethora of factors to consider. Should both films come from the same genre, same time period, or feature the same actor? But regardless of what throughline holds a double feature billing together, an effective double feature excels when the comparing and contrasting of the two films highlights their best individual elements. And while a double billing isn’t all that uncommon in film, it’s rare to come across a written manuscript that features two distinct authors when anthologies and single author collections have become the norm.
The Split Scream series, originated by Dread Stone Press, pair up two novelettes from distinct authors, providing a unique publishing opportunity for the difficult-to-sell novelette length manuscript and delivering a two-sided tale of terror that you can easily digest in a sitting. Split Scream Volume Four is the first published by Tenebrous Press and features two frightening stories of rituals and ancient histories from D. Matthew Urban and Holly Lyn Walrath. As a fan of the first three volumes of the series, I’m proud to report that Tenebrous Press handles their first volume with care, pairing up a duo of excellent stories that feels both cohesive and tantalizing.
D. Matthew Urban starts off the volume with Nonsense Words, the story of a tenured professor who finds herself office neighbors with a soon-to-be-infamous younger professor. The pair quickly bond over their shared field of pre-Classics, searching for answers to long lost secrets as their personal and professional thoughts become entwined. As the new Professor Paul Duncan becomes the talk of the department for his eccentric lectures and after-hours peculiarities, we’re led into a world of ancient histories hidden just beneath our own.
This story succeeds in part due to its point of narration, as our main character views her relationship with Professor Duncan in horrifying retrospect. Blending elements of dark academia and weird horror, D. Matthew Urban weaves an impressive story of lost rituals rediscovered by overly ambitious academics. The writing throughout the piece is strong and engaging with the question of “how will this escalate?” causing us to question Professor Duncan’s actions as well as the reliability of our narrator’s perceptions. Fans of Robert W. Chambers’ The King In Yellow and H.P. Lovecraft will be beholden to the horrors of Nonsense Words.
Holly Lyn Walrath’s Bone Light tells the story of the titular New England lighthouse, revealing its haunted history through a series of letters written by the latest lighthouse keepers. John and Mary Long bear the massive responsibility of guiding ships away from Bone Light’s rocky shores. And Bone Light is infamous, on its very shores hundreds have died, be it by crashing upon its jagged beach or in the many conflicts between settlers and Indigenous peoples. The very lighthouse itself is built of the bones of those who died on the island, so it is no surprise that odd phenomenon mystify and terrify the couple. But as Mary’s husband becomes increasingly distant, she finds comfort in the rituals her witchy mother taught her, fighting for herself, her family, and the soul of the island itself.
Despite its limited page count, Bone Light draws you in with its fog-laden coastal horrorsand witchcraft disguised as daily chores as Mary finds her world new and foreign as her husband brings her out of the city to the isolated island. The epistolary format of the story makes sense, considering it draws influence from the Gothic and early supernatural horror, though I felt at times that the scope of the story was slightly restricted by this format; however, Bone Light challenges its subgenre, incorporating the magical alongside the paranormal. The novelette’s romance writing is particularly compelling, using Mary’s life as a queer person living in the 1800s as a means of exploring tradition, the taboo, and personal transformation.
Split Scream Volume Four succeeds at marrying two unique stories of ritual and the way it plays into the horrors of the world around and below us. Tenebrous Press has once again proved it publishes excellent works of indie horror while maintaining the DNA of what makes the series great. Split Scream Volume Four can be yours this Halloween, October 31st, 2023.
Split Scream Volume Four
SPLIT SCREAM has a new home at Tenebrous Press! Editor Alex Ebenstein brings his acclaimed split-novelette series back for a fourth round featuring:
Nonsense Words by D. Matthew Urban
An aging professor of ancient history strikes up a friendship with her new colleague, Dr. Paul Duncan, a scholar of undecipherable inscriptions. As she finds herself drawn into Dr. Duncan’s life—his brilliant wife and mystical daughters, frightened students and uncanny associates—darker forces behind his research emerge, plunging her into a nightmare of mythical absurdity and ritualistic death. Dark academia meets cosmic horror in Nonsense Words, where the incomprehensible is granted a conjured form—but too much imagination can be a dangerous thing. If the cosmos is nonsense, merely a divine or demonic joke, will she live to have the last laugh, or will she die a punchline?
Bone Light by Holly Lyn Walrath
An icy surf batters Bone Light as its beacon calls to weary souls at sea. This edifice built of bone and wretchedness sits atop a cursed rock, surrounded by death, watched over by the ghosts of light-keepers past. Their records tell of the inhospitable environment, but it is Mary Long’s writings that show the heart. Misfortune necessitates the arrival of her dear Ida, laying bear to the obstacles that shaped their history—a husband and taboo among them. These log entries illuminate Mary’s world—the banality, the heartbreak, the magic. In Bone Light, a beacon of death might finally be the thing to give life to a long-denied romance.
Cover art by Evangeline Gallagher.
Interior illustrations by Echo Echo.
Justin Moritz (They/He) is a non-binary writer of queer horror, exploring the grotesquely campy and the filthy underside of society. Raised on true crime and horror movies from way too young of an age, their work tends to explore the terror of living as a queer person in modern times with a speculative twist. Their short fiction and poetry have been featured in Tales of Sley House 2022, Death Knell Press’ Nightmare Sky: Stories of Astronomical Horror, and several Scare Street anthologies.